Fried turkey? In April? Yes, that’s what I thought too. But after talking Brandan out of many other (more expensive and difficult to source) ideas (Rattlesnake? Eel? Yes, there is no doubt, the boy has an imagination. If it is an animal, then he’s wondered if it could be food.), this one was doable. In my mind, there’s a seasonality to frying a turkey (and if we’re being honest here…and why wouldn’t we be…I prefer a well-roasted turkey to a fried one). That’s generally the consensus in this country, as evidenced by the lack of abundance of turkeys in the stores. With a little luck and scrounging around, I managed to find one that was in the 18-pound range. Larger than I had hoped for, but it would do.
Here’s the rub: turkey is cheap. Even in April, the turkey I purchased was 88 cents a pound. (It was a conventional turkey – I would have loved to obtain a free-range, local turkey, but again…they’re seasonal.) Frying a turkey, however, not so much. Buying enough peanut oil to fry a turkey raises the price. Mind you, nowhere near the price obtaining eel in the Dallas area, much less the price of rattlesnake (Which can be free if you hunt your own, but since I wasn’t equipped to do that, I’d have to fork over $80+ a pound online. Not happening.) However, the thrill and experience Brandan would get from dropping a gigantic bird into a deep pot of oil was well worth the price. In addition, my preference for roasted bird is outnumbered by the rest of the family, who loves the fried stuff. This would be a delicious treat for the family. (And with luck, I could make use of the leftover meat for some enchiladas – another family favorite.)
So we got started. While many recipes for fried turkey call for brining, injecting all sorts of concoctions, and/or rubbing the bird down with a spice mixture (and trust me, they sell a lot of preservative-laden, most-likely-gluten-filled products out there to help accomplish these tasks), we opted for simple. I brought out a jar of my favorite BBQ spice rub mix (minus the sugar), and we rubbed down the turkey with the seasoning. Other than that, no further preparation was needed. Once the oil was hot, we dropped the turkey, and waited. And checked the temperature of the oil, waiting for it to come up. And waited. It wasn’t coming up. It was windy that day (we’ve had day after day this spring of very high winds), and so I was afraid that the wind was keeping the flame low. We tried to block the wind to no avail. The oil was still reading around 200 degrees F. Finally, my husband suggests to check the temperature of the turkey. (It wasn’t nearly time to start checking yet, but I agreed that we should try.) That’s when we discovered the oil thermometer was inadvertently stuck, just slightly, into the bird, thus preventing an accurate oil reading. Whoops. We remedied the situation, discovered that the oil registered an accurate 350 degrees F (that’s more like it!). Thankfully, the oil wasn’t higher than 350 degrees, as we could have entered into dangerous territory! Before we knew it, the turkey was ready to remove and allow to rest.
For Brandan, the resting was the hardest part. The aroma was incredible, and the skin was so crackly. The bird looked good. However, we managed to restrain ourselves (minus one or two small pieces of the edges of the skin) until it was carving time. That’s when the boys in our house are suddenly immensely interested in what’s going on in the kitchen, and start hovering around the carver (that’s me!), waiting to swipe a morsel from the plate. I’ve learned to work swiftly.
How was our turkey? Well, in spite of my previous opinions about turkeys in April, it was quite good. The breast meat was unbelievably moist and flavorful – the best part of the bird, we agreed. Brandan enjoyed a wing and a leg. There wasn’t much conversation from him at the table – he was too immersed in his meal. Everyone eating that evening was more than pleased. Some of the dark meat was a bit dry, as the turkey was in the oil legs-down, so they most likely got more heat exposure than the breast. In spite of that, it was still quite tasty. While I do hold true to my opinion about roast turkey over fried, I will have to say – this was a good bird! And yes, we made enchiladas the next day with leftovers, so it was double the pleasure.
Lesson learned? Next time, I will be sure to not stick the oil thermometer into whatever I am frying!
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Fried Turkey
1 whole raw turkey, 16-18 lbs (make sure it isn’t basted with butter or any gluten seasonings – check the label or contact the company) (a smaller bird can be used, and even preferable, as the legs might be less prone to overcooking)
Barbeque spice rub mix (omit the sugar) – I used about 1/2 cup for our large bird, but you can use less for a smaller one
About 3 gallons of peanut oil or other high-heat frying oil
A turkey fryer and propane burner
Before starting, place your still-wrapped turkey inside your fryer pot. Fill with enough water to just cover the turkey. Remove the turkey, and look at how much water remains in the pot. This is how much oil you will need to use. (You don’t want to measure too much and risk a hot oil overflow disaster!) Pour out water and dry the pot well.
Pat the turkey dry and rub seasoning all over bird, including inside the cavity. If you have a wire holder with which to lower the turkey in the oil, place the turkey on it now.
Pour required amount of oil into your pot (I used a little less than 3 gallons). (Do this outside, away from an overhead cover. You might opt to place a large board or cardboard underneath to catch splatters.) Place the pot on the burner and light the burner. Heat the oil to 350 degrees. Make sure you don’t leave the oil unattended.
Once oil is at temperature, carefully lower your turkey into the oil. Bring the oil back up to temperature (325 – 350 degrees is optimal). Your turkey should take about 3 minutes per pound to cook (my turkey took roughly an hour). Start checking the turkey’s temperature about 2/3 of the way through by inserting an instant-read thermometer deep into the breast. Once it reads 170 degrees, remove the turkey and set it in a roasting pan to rest, covered with foil. Rest for about 30 minutes and then carve.